New DVDs: Four by Mizoguchi

With no new Rob Marshall film due until Christmas, 2009, The Criterion Collection has kindly decided to help us through by releasing four films by Kenji Mizoguchi on its budget Eclipse label. Included in “Kenji Mizoguchi’s Fallen Women” are the great Japanese filmmaker’s twin masterpieces of 1936, “Osaka Elegy” and “Sisters of the Gion”; his postwar neorealist drama “Women of the Night” (1948); and his final film, the rough and confounding “Street of Shame” (1956). Details in the New York Times.

I was saddened to learn that Andrew Johnston, a gifted, enthusiastic film and television critic for “Time Out New York” and many other print and online publications, died on Sunday after a struggle with cancer.  Keith Ulrich of The House Next Door (where Andrew covered “The Wire” and “Mad Men”) passes along word that there will be a memorial for Andrew on Wednesday, Oct. 29 at 7 pm at the Harvard Club, 35 West 44th Street in New York City.  He will be missed.

147 comments to New DVDs: Four by Mizoguchi

  • Junko Yasutani

    I remembered something else. Possible that Mizoguchi would make the whole movie in sequence shots if it was scope movie, because he wanted to make ZOKU SHIN HEIKE MONOGATARI in scope. There is emakimono picture of HEIKE MONOGATARI (original ancient story), emakimono is scroll picture that unfolds to be looked at. I see the trace of this in SHIN HEIKE MONOGATARI. But this is only guess that I’m making, nothing written about Mizoguchi really wanted to do this.

    He wanted to make scope movie. He went to Hollywood to see scope process and wrote the letter to Nagata Masaichi producer about it. He saw THE ROBE at 20th Century Fox Studio. He didn’t like that movie but he liked scope process, thought it would be good for ZOKU SHIN HEIKE MONOGATARI.

  • Blake Lucas

    When a director does very long takes, as Mizoguchi so often does, we may have a tendency to think they do sequence shots. In my experience, great directors are not so doctrinaire, and are always ready to go to the full range of fixed shots, camera movement/long takes, shorter takes with more editing. I don’t find Mizoguchi any exception to this. I studied a sequence in LIFE OF OHARU to write about in DEFINING MOMENTS IN MOVIES and counted and timed the shots. There were certainly fewer than you would see in the films of most directors, and few can match him for what he is able to create and sustain within a shot, but editing was as important as anything else in this sequence.

    I really don’t think there is any director worth anything of whom one says “He/she always does it THIS way.” Some lesser talents maybe…

    Kent, I know you were not saying this about Mizoguchi and LAST CRYSANTHEMUMS. This is just a general observation that the thread brought to my mind. I know I’m kind of a “long take man” in my aesthetic preferences, but I’ve found that one reason for this is that longer takes make me appreciate more the beauty and expressiveness of the cut when it does come.

    It was actually Mizoguchi who first put this idea into my mind in a sequence from MY LOVE IS BURNING/WAGA KOI WA MOENU. It was a very long take as I recall involving two women–there was a point at which they moved much closer to each other and made a kind of choreographed turn in relation to ech other and that’s where the cut was. I’m sorry I can’t remember this more precisely right now, but it was supremely effective and heightened one’s sense of everything going in the movie.

  • Blake Lucas

    Hope it was clear in my first sentence that I didn’t mean to say great directors never do sequence shots. They certainly do (though even these shots do end) and can be effective. But it’s hard to think of a great director doing them for a whole film, except experimentally, as in ROPE–and fine though it is, I can’t go with it as one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces.

  • nicolas saada

    Bela Tarr perhaps ?

  • > It was actually Mizoguchi who first put this
    > idea into my mind in a sequence from MY LOVE IS
    > BURNING/WAGA KOI WA MOENU. It was a very long
    > take as I recall involving two women–there was
    > a point at which they moved much closer to each
    > other and made a kind of choreographed turn in
    > relation to ech other and that’s where the cut
    > was.

    Hiroshi Shimizu did a remarkable scene of much the same sort in his 1929 “Fue no shiratama” (Indestructible Pearl). Both virtuosic and dramaticaly effective.

  • Blake Lucas

    I must confess to not having seen anything by Bela Tarr. I know I’m remiss–and mean to remedy.

    I’d be very interested to see the point I raised argued. I acknowledge it is arguable. I argued it from my own experience, which has confirmed the way I’m perceiving it more and more.

  • BIG MONDAY (Michael T. Rehfield, 1998) is an independent feature film, that is one long take. It is quite remarkable. It follows the hero as he walks through Manhattan, with light comedy vignettes. I have no idea why this is not better known.
    POSSESSED (Clarence Brown) and WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER (Frank Tashlin) have a lot of long take stagings.

  • dm494

    With one very minor exception–a scene that contains a brief POV insert–FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI is done entirely in sequence shots.

    Of Tarr’s films I’m fairly sure that WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES adheres to a one-shot-per-scene approach without exception. DAMNATION and ALMANAC OF FALL, if I remember correctly, are not as rigorous with their long takes. SATANTANGO and the TV MACBETH I can’t comment on, as I have yet to see them. Jonathan Rosenbaum does say that the latter consists of only two shots–which would make it the cinematic analogue of Faulkner’s “The Jail”.

    Angelopoulos’s films involve very long takes. This is just a guess, but I think the scenes in ETERNITY AND A DAY usually contain two shots apiece, each clocking in at around 2 1/2 minutes.

    Blake, how do you feel about UNDER CAPRICORN?

  • dm494

    I omitted an example: Rodrigo Garcia’s NINE LIVES is all sequence shots as well.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Mike, I am an admirer of BIG MONDAY, a tape of which the filmmaker very nicely sent to me after I had expressed my curiosity to see the film on A FILM BY (maybe YOU had mentioned it, Mike!) It’s quite amazing. It was filmed in real time, after over a month of rehearsals. It opens in an apartment with the protagonist dressing, having breakfast, talking with his wife etc while getting ready to go to a job interview. The camera follows him out of the apt. and building into the street — Broadway in what looks like the upper nineties — and follows him all the way down to the 72nd St subway station (he has a long conversation with a friend as they walk together).He gets into the subway station and on to a train still followed by the camera, gets off at 42nd St, takes the shuttle to Grand Central, wanders about Grand Central, walks out then back in, meets someone in a restaurant, then goes to his appointment which is the last section of the film with a surprise ending. All in one take! Quite an experience!

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    I was going to mention FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI which I remember as filmed entirely in very long takes, but I haven’t seen it recently enough to be sure so thanks for confirming,dm.

  • david hare

    Brad, Zangiku Monogatari is included in one of the French Mizo Annees 30s boxes. The print is only just serviceable, and from a low contrast, fuzzy 16mm element. It remains a masterpiece despite these impediments of course.
    I can confirm it does not present every opening with a plan sequence. Im not sure and I will check again (only just home with terrible jetlag) but the excellent retoration of 47 Ronin included in one of the now multiple French coffrets may well in fact open every scene with a plan however.

    The terrible condition of a lot of current Mizo titles on DVD includes Oharu,which used to regularaly circulate all over the place in beautiful 35mm prints, and the immediate post war/Occupation movies including another “missing” masterpiece Sumako the Actress. As Michael K knows it looks like the major reason for this is Shochiku itself whose record on film preservation is woeful. Yet..yet.. I can remember major and virtually complete Mizo retros during the late 70s in London and Sydney to name only two cities in which close to everything extant was screened in generally wonderful 35mm prints. Of course I have to shake my head when I remember this is over 30 years ago.

    THere is also a (used to be) mint 35mm print of Zangiku Monogatari sitting somewhere, forgotten on a shelf in either the ACMI or the Commmonwealth FIlm Archive offices in Melbourne. I doubt if any dedicated film curator or DVD producer would have too much trouble finding all sorts of “surprises” like this and the Channel Four source is she or he were to be given a brief and a budget.

  • Dave K

    I suppose Sokurov’s “Russian Ark” (2002) is the current long take champion — a 90 minute film in a single unbroken take — although it feels to me more like a stunt than a genuinely expressive technique. Recently, I came across Tay Garnett’s 1932 “Prestige,” a film that repeatedly uses long takes matched with disguised cuts, very much like “Rope,” to create a sense of a single continuous camera movement. The opening shot goes from the Paris opera, via a miniature set, into a military courtyard, then rises to an upper window and goes inside for an extended dialogue scene. Garnett seems to have experimented extensively with this technique in his Pathe features (most effectively in “Her Man” — a great film), but by the time he got to MGM he’d either given it up or had it beaten out of him, with the glorious exception of that tracking shot that introduces Lana Turner in “The Postman Always Rings Twice.”

  • Shochiku’s preservation efforts probably were better than any studio in Japan — except Toho (which may have done better due to a combination of luck and a prior corporate history in film material manufacturing and film processing).

    One wonders just how many of these good 70s prints you saw still do exist somewhere.

    BTW — Sumako is indeed one of Mizoguchi’s best late 40s films. ;~}

  • Brad Stevens

    “The terrible condition of a lot of current Mizo titles on DVD includes Oharu,which used to regularaly circulate all over the place in beautiful 35mm prints”

    The BBC’s print of this looks very nice.

    “and the immediate post war/Occupation movies including another “missing” masterpiece Sumako the Actress.”

    The only transfer I’ve seen of this has French subtitles.

    “When a director does very long takes, as Mizoguchi so often does, we may have a tendency to think they do sequence shots. In my experience, great directors are not so doctrinaire, and are always ready to go to the full range of fixed shots, camera movement/long takes, shorter takes with more editing.”

    My impression is that Mizoguchi relied more and more on sequence shots as his body of work evolved. It seems logical to assume that, if he had made a few more films, and especially if those films were in widescreen ratios, he might (as Junko suggests) have ended up using sequence shots exclusively, in much the same way that Ozu’s final films completely reject camera movement.

    Incidentally, ABEL (HEART) ASIA, Asia Argento’s video diary made during the filming of NEW ROSE HOTEL, contains a fascinating scene in which Abel Ferrara delivers a detailed explanation (complete with diagrams) of exactly why films made in the 2.35:1 ratio require less editing.

  • Brad Stevens

    It’s been many years since I saw it, but I seem to recall that Alex Cox’s HIGHWAY PATROLMAN was made up of sequence shots. Woody Allen’s BULLETS OVER BROADWAY is all sequence shots, except for one scene near the end. And, of course, there are numerous experimental filmmakers whose work consists entirely of sequence shots (James Benning, Andy Warhol, etc.).

  • John M

    BULLETS OVER BROADWAY is all sequence shots? Wow, I don’t remember that at all.

    Of recent releases, CHILDREN OF MEN has some astounding sequence shots. Some apparently are separate takes stitched together seamlessly with CGI. Cheating, maybe, but dazzling all the same.

  • Blake Lucas

    My original speculation was that GREAT directors are not tied to one single way of doing things, not that there were not films done entirely in sequence shots. That said, FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI may be the best possible counter example–as this did seem to me one of the very best films of the last twenty years. But I’ve only seen it once to date, and though was immediately aware of sequence shots and very long takes, I stopped thinking about this as I became absorbed in the film on first viewing; it’s something I’d become steadily attentive to on second viewing probably. So, great argument on behalf of a great film, and made me keen to get back to it.

    I don’t disagree with Brad at all that sequence shots in Mizoguchi become more pronounced in the later part of his career, but never to the point of his being unwilling to do something else. It’s hard to say whether he would have moved to that. Hou (FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI) has cut subsequent films differently–so, still, he’s not doctrinaire, as glorious an example as the film is. Ozu did finally stay with fixed shots. By the time he did it, it seems like a deeply and profoundly deliberated aesthetic choice. He had moved the camera plenty earlier, and demonstrated great flexibility. He refined to that aesthetic over time, and nothing in his films suggests to me he believes it’s the only way, simply the right way for him in these late films.

    UNDER CAPRICORN bears an interesting resemblance to ROPE for me. I find it a more successful film aesthetically, and I say that liking both films. Doing sequence shots but not insisting on it or on ten minute takes served UNDER CAPRICORN well. You know, I’m feeling right now like I wouldn’t mind a fresh look at both films to see where I am on that (haven’t seen either in quite awhile). And that’s my honest feeling of the moment.

  • John M

    Wow, reading those comments, does anyone know where I could find BIG MONDAY? It sounds fascinating…

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘Shochiku’s preservation efforts probably were better than any studio in Japan — except Toho (which may have done better due to a combination of luck and a prior corporate history in film material manufacturing and film processing).’

    Shochiku kept post-war movies safe, but maybe half of earlier movies is in not so good condition. Japanese film industry is not good about conserving movies. Seems by chance that one movie is conserved and one other movie is not conserved. Like you mentioned, Toho doesn’t have the problem so bad, but Kurosawa Akira movies is being restored by American Motion Picture Academy and Kurosawa Productions, not so much money coming from Toho.

    Daiei movies by Mizoguchi after War is all in good shape. Daiei assests alwaye being sold or traded to I don’t who owns Daiei movie division today.

    Ten years ago Shochiku was making the restoration of Ozu movie, I think was CHICHI ARIKI. They stopped and didn’t finish because costing more money. Japanese movie companies not appreciating the movie they own. It’s a serious problem for Japanese movies to survive.

  • I think Kadokawa owns Daiei today. Daiei did do fairly well (overall) in handling its 50′s properties.

    Shochiku has done a pretty decent job of restoring some of its less deteriorated 60s work (like some of the early — non-Tora-san — Yoji Yamada films). And they did a pretty good job on most of the later Ozu films. Chichi ariki is a mess (especially the sound). Shochiku’s stuff form the 40s (and before) is pretty iffy — but I am glad to have whatever I can get of Shimizu and Shimazu (but where are their DVDs of Naruse’s silents).

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Blake, you may know that I have had a very special relationship to ROPE ever since I was in my teens. In 1984 when ROPE was at last revived I wrote a very long, very crazy analysis of the film for the French magazine CINEMA (nowadays I feel a bit embarrassed by some of its excesses)and a couple of years ago Adrian Martin asked me to translate it for ROUGE, which I did (cutting out some of the excesses). It took me many years to discover that the original piece had had some impact (mostly on non-French readers) — including a well-known Hitchock specialist who wrote that it is the best thing ever published on ROPE. Without the Internet I might have died thinking that no one had ever read the piece. Which fortunately I was resigned to. It’s not that I think ROPE is a masterpiece — I just have this special relationship to the movie, probably because I saw it the first day it opened in Paris and it was the first time I really paid attention to camera work in a movie. A good friend of mine who saw it with me at a later screening absolutely hated it and I couldn’t understand why: “But those long takes!” I pleaded. He didn’t know or care what i was talking about. I was totally oblivious about the “content” and couldn’t understand why it could disturb anybody.
    It was really a “defining moment” in my life as a film buff.

  • Nelson

    Jean-Pierre (or Mike Grost), do you have contact information for Michael Rehfield? I’ve been writing for a new website that focuses on American independent films — mostly new ones, but we also want to bring attention to older films that have been overlooked. This is the first I’ve heard of BIG MONDAY and I’d like to see it! You can email me at nelsonkim123 *at* gmail dot com. Many thanks.

  • I’m sorry, I have no contact info for Mr. Rehfield.
    BIG MONDAY was shown on the Independent Film Channel in 2003, where I saw it by chance. I wrote about it for a_film_by. Mr. Rehfield did send me an e-mail out of the blue, – but which I lost in a computer crash (not good!).

  • Ian Johnston

    Jancso’s ELEKTREIA is all sequence shots, the cuts dictated by when the film ran out in the camera. I guess if he’d had the technical means, this would have been his RUSSIAN ARK, but less dubious – a logical development on the lengthy shots in RED PSALM. I haven’t seen subsequent films like PUBLIC VIRTUES, PRIVATE VICES or HUNGARIAN RHAPSODY since the late seventies, but as I remember they marked a retreat from this sequence shot aesthetic, with more “normal” cutting (particularly the former).

  • nicolas saada

    JP I did not read your piece in 84 but I have to say that I also discovered ROPE at that time and I still regard it as really great. We’re a small club I reckon but it is, I think, Hitchcock’s most “langian” film. It has also been a “defining moment” for me. First, I think it’s one of Hitchcock’s more mature films, and that he quality of the dialogue, the overall wit of the film is a departure from the wonderful “dickensian” humor of the British films and the early Hollywood thrillers. I think the master explored a tone that was already that of SHADOW OF A DOUBT: a dark, fatalist sense of humor. I’m sure the play was a total bore and Hitchcock manages to split it into space capsules that become time capsules. The long takes are not just “bravado” endeavors. They really manage to cut into the theatrical space while preserving its “time” quality. Ophuls was another master at combining the real time quality of stage with the dreamlike quality of the moving camera. The dialogue scenes in RECKLESS MOMENT or CAUGHT speak for themselves. We spoke about “neo realism”". It’s interesting to notice that many “long takes” films appear in the late forties as a way to contrast with the loud tradition of “montage “and quick cuts fashioned by the industry especially during the war years, where you had the impression of density and speed in many films by Walsh, Curtiz, Hathaway.
    Long takes speeded down the average rythm of film narrative and were perhaps an artificial response to the crudeness of “location realism”. As if takin time, letting the actors play within long shots fashoned a new realism of which Wyler and Preinger were the early masters. Just a thought…
    Lang often used long takes in his fifties movie. Look at BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT.
    BUt the master of the “long and invisible takes” remains Preminger: there’s a shot in the street in FALLEN ANGEL that kind of defies anything I’ve seen since. Dana Andrews crosses the street, looks back; a police car enters the frame he looks away: it’s incredible.

  • David Boxwell

    Another long take master, mentioned previously (but not this example): John Farrow, who did an uninterrupted 7+ minute shot (in a bordertown dive hotel room) in WHERE DANGER LIVES (50).

  • dm494

    FALLEN ANGEL is a wonderful fim, but the long takes in WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS may be even more stupendous.

    Some of De Palma’s long takes verge on invisibility, e.g., the sequence shot used for the last scene of SNAKE EYES.

    Miklos Jancso needs to get a mention here. How many shots are in ELECTRA, MY LOVE?

  • nicolas saada

    there is also this long beautiful take in the apartment, when ray milland finds the corpse in THE BIG CLOCK.

  • Kent Jones

    Blake, is any great artist doctrinaire? I guess you could say that Rothko and Webern were, but not really: they just chose extremely particular lenses to look through, and found a kind of liberation through their constraints. Hou tends to shoot in extremely long takes. The reason it seems noteworthy in FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI is the structure of the narrative, which is broken up into discrete episodes. With Hitchcock, even when he approaches the idea of shooting an entire movie in a single take as a “stunt,” he can’t help but make it mysteriously compelling, merging (per Saada) real time with dream time.

    Why shoot in a long take? Often to build an alternating sense of momentum and fixity, I suppose: on one level something is happening, on another level nothing is changing. I was looking at Welles’ MACBETH the other morning, and the lenghty takes make such perfect sense for that play, particularly on those bare and forbidding sets: their minds are spinning a hundred miles a second, but they’re stuck in this nightmare space. On the other hand, I don’t really know why De Palma opens SNAKE EYES with that artificially extended take, other than a desire to prove something to himself – if I remember correctly, there’s a very long, tense unbroken exchange between Cage and Sinise later in the film that makes much more sense dramatically and is far more compelling.

    Jean-Pierre, I’m anxious to read your piece on ROPE. I was touched by your admission of a “very special relationship” to the film. I feel that way about a lot of films, and the whole idea of value judgments and questions of ultimate greatness sort of gets in the way. Speaking of which, I watched SABOTEUR for the first time in years the other night, and while there are about a million things wrong with it, I found it very special: the quiet of the factory and the dark smoke, the genteel rancher at his pool, Cummings’ all-American plainness, the deserted Soda City set, the tongue in cheek quality of the dialogue (“I forgot about Fry – he seems so small now”), the beautiful work with the Statue of Liberty.

  • jwarthen

    The term “sequence shot” is new to me, but two favorites employed the technique just about all the way through: Roy Andersson’s MUSIC FROM THE SECOND FLOOR and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s MABOROSHI….

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Nelson: unfortunately I am in the same quandary as Mike. I exchanged some e-mails with Michael Rehfield but they vanished with the computer I had then. I should have printed his e-mails because he gave me lots of interesting info about the making of the film. I do have a copy of the film on videocassette though, but have no equipment to duplicate it.

    Nicolas and Kent: thanks. I didn’t make it clear in my post that I first saw ROPE the day it opened in Paris in the Spring of 1949 (I remember it was a spring day,I attended the first afternoon show) so I was barely fifteen but I had read about the long take technique and that somehow turned me on. I wrote about it all in my 1984 article.

    Kent, I think SABOTEUR is an underrated Hitchcock, it has so many great moments in it, some of which you mention.

    Long takes in Farrow’s films: there are so many! In “50 ANS” I described two sequence shots from CALIFORNIA (not a great movie, unfortunately): one is 4:25 in length, the other 4:30, and they both involve complex camera moves, many characters and a lot of talk.

  • dm494

    Kent, I’m not too wild about SNAKE EYES either, but the opening shot makes perfect sense as a little film in itself that the rest of the movie comments on. My earlier remark was about the film’s last scene, however, which is also a sequence shot, and a rather unostentatious one. Taken with the opening it offer another example of De Palma’s penchant for bookending his films, although since the two scenes have no shared content the symmetry in this case is purely stylistic.

    MACBETH is an impressive achievement and one of my favorite Welles films. (I could do without most of the performances however, especially Jeanette Nolan’s.) But couldn’t you argue that the long take is well suited to just about any play you care to adapt?

    As someone whose memories of MACBETH are fresher than my own, could you tell me if the film contains any of the tiered frontal compositions I remember it as having? (I’m thinking of very distinctive images in which the frontally posed actors are situated at different elevations within the shot.)

  • Peter Henne

    Michael Kerpan mentioned the Digital Meme DVD of “Taki No Shiraito.” Digital Meme also distributes “The Downfall of Osen,” which I’ve never seen. Since picking up Donald Kirihara’s book on ’30s Mizoguchi, “Patterns of Time,” I’ve wanted to see that film, and I’ve saved the chapter on it in that book for last. Michael, could you tell us about image quality on the DVD for “Taki No Shiraito,” and also on “Osen” if you’re familiar with the disc? Any way of ordering these at a discount not directly through Digital Meme? They’re steeply priced on the web site.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘couldn’t you argue that the long take is well suited to just about any play you care to adapt?’

    I do not think it would be suited to kabuki play, becasue that is usually having trick scene change, special way for actor to appear, and action scenes that could be better with editing.

    ROPE is different kind of adaptation of play. When movie looks like play, it’s because of one camera position, not changing position, not moving camera like in ROPE.

    Early Western and Japanese movies was having one camera position for each scene, wasn’t this the first sequence shot? If someone wants to imitate experience of viewing play, then one camera position would be like that. But making the adaptation of play that has action scene, maybe editing is better. CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT has much editing and it’s the great movie because of it.

    Talking earlier about JOYU SUMAKO NO KOI, play performances is shown different from the other parts of the movie, sometimes in far long shot, never trying to imitate the way it could be seen in the real theater.

  • Kent Jones

    “But couldn’t you argue that the long take is well suited to just about any play you care to adapt?”

    Don’t really understand your reasoning there, and no, I don’t agree.

  • The Digital Meme discs are only cheaper if you pre-order them (either at Digital Meme or at Amazon Japan). I really wanted to get the latest release (containing Daisuke Ito’s Jirokichi the Rat), but delayed too long — and the price jumped up $15 (or so) overnight (I forgot Japan was a day ahead).

    Digital Meme’s Mizoguchi DVDs contain reasonably good transfers of vintage prints (so far as I can tell). No extensive restoration. I doubt one will find significantly better looking releases any time soon. (They look better than old video copies I’ve seen).

  • Nelson

    Thanks anyway, Mike G and Jean-Pierre. I’ll do some sleuthing around online and see what I can find.

  • dm494

    Junko and Kent, “any play” was, in retrospect, too strong, but I do think that for most plays, particularly ones written before films started influencing theater, an approach that emphasizes long takes seems like an obvious way to go. And I think the reasons are fairly clear: long takes allow you to preserve the integrity of space, real time, and continuity of performance, all of which we associate with theater. Likewise, if the takes feature wide shots (interestingly, long takes and wide shots seem to go together), it’s also possible to maintain the complex blocking and visible interaction of the performers which frequently characterize theater. Of course, none of this should be taken to mean that other approaches to play adaptation aren’t valid.

    With that last comment in mind, Junko, I have to admit to having no idea whether a cut-based style might not be better for filming Kabuki: it’s very frustrating to me that I haven’t been able to see any Noh or Kabuki theater–in fact, the closest I’ve come is probably THE STORY OF THE LAST CHRYSANTHEMUMS. There are plays which I’ve seen staged in very cinematic ways–a 2004 production of Stoppard’s JUMPERS, which used a rotating platform for rapid scene changes; and a revival last summer of DANGEROUS LIAISONS and the new play FROST/NIXON, which both employed staging practices that reminded me of crosscutting. Those plays would definitely be exceptions to my claim.

    “When movie looks like play, it’s because of one camera position, not changing position, not moving camera like in ROPE.”

    I disagree with that. If memory serves, WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? is yet another one-shot-per-scene movie, and one in which the camera never moves. Yet Tsai’s static shots look less theatrical than the elaborate camera movements seen in FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI. That example doesn’t support the following claim (WHAT TIME’s shots are pretty wide), but I will suggest notwithstanding that theatricality is more likely to result from the width of a shot than from its lack of movement. A film done entirely in static closeups wouldn’t look very theatrical to me, but there’s a good chance I’d react differently to a film containing lots of full length shots of the actors, even if the cutting were fast.

    By the way, I don’t know how you feel, but theatrical compositions aren’t necessarily a bad thing in my eyes. It depends on what the director is trying to do.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? is yet another one-shot-per-scene movie, and one in which the camera never moves. Yet Tsai’s static shots look less theatrical than the elaborate camera movements seen in FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI. That example doesn’t support the following claim (WHAT TIME’s shots are pretty wide), but I will suggest notwithstanding that theatricality is more likely to result from the width of a shot than from its lack of movement. A film done entirely in static closeups wouldn’t look very theatrical to me, but there’s a good chance I’d react differently to a film containing lots of full length shots of the actors, even if the cutting were fast.’

    Dm, I agree with this. I didn’t explain clearly before. I was talking about actors keeping at same distance from camera always, camera showing front view only, like someone watching from theater seat.

    ‘long takes allow you to preserve the integrity of space, real time, and continuity of performance, all of which we associate with theater. Likewise, if the takes feature wide shots (interestingly, long takes and wide shots seem to go together), it’s also possible to maintain the complex blocking and visible interaction of the performers which frequently characterize theater.’

    This would be the good way to show Noh drama, because small gesture is important, and body movement is like dance, and there is the dance passage in Noh drama. But Kabuki drama is big gesture and movement. Costume and make-up is exaggerated, staging is made to look flat, made to look like living drawing even when actor is entering on diagonal runway. It’s better to see Kabuki from the front view. Especially action scene in Kabuki could have editing. Kabuki is like those plays you mentioned with many tricks. But Noh drama should have the continuity of performance.

  • Kent Jones

    DM, I agree with you up to a point, but it seems to me that it’s based on the assumption that every adaptation of a play should be devoted to preserving or echoing the theatrical experience. I suppose it’s unavoidable on one level, but it’s also most certainly up for debate.

    FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI probably seems “theatrical” because so much of the action is devoted to ceremony, covering layers of restrained emotion. The long takes in, say, THE FLIGHT OF THE RED BALLOON or GOODBYE SOUTH GOODBYE or CAFE LUMIERE are another matter entirely. Nothing theatrical about the long scene with the daughter and her parents in the latter film. And I realize that you’re not using the term as a value judgment.

  • dm494

    Thanks for that information about Noh and Kabuki, Junko. I’d like to learn more about the differences between these two forms. And from what you say about Kabuki, I wonder if a film done in Paradjanov-style tableaux might not be a good way of presenting it. That would be a very theatrical film though.

    Kent, as you point out, my claim did presuppose the desirability of preserving some of the theatrical qualities of material originally conceived for the stage. But I think you’re imputing to me a position that’s stronger than the one I expressed. All I said was that long takes would be a natural way to go in adapting just about any play. (Just to reiterate, I concede now that “any play” is excessive.) But there was no implication in my remark that other approaches might not also be natural.

    Maybe we should also distinguish between looking and feeling theatrical. The former case is a type of the latter–one in which the theatrical feeling comes partly from the images. Eliminating a theatrical look is only a matter of rejecting certain sorts of image. But a theatrical feeling seems more unavoidable–at least in the sense that it’s probably hard to do away with unless huge cuts are made in the dialogue.

  • Junko, you were asking about Sternberg’s impressions of Japan. He does devote a few pages to this subject in his autobiography, which is an excellent work. He talks about the difficulty of understanding the nuances of Japanese language and culture. He also cites Anatahan as his favourite of his films, “because the least popular.”

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘He does devote a few pages to this subject in his autobiography, which is an excellent work.’

    I have read it and liked much, but Sternberg did not said anything about meeting Mizoguchi in 1936 or 1952 luncheon with Mizoguchi and Ozu. I would like to know what Sternberg was thinking meeting with other great directors.

  • Ben

    I am baffled by the term “sequence shot” being used here. Do people mean by master shot?

  • Ben, ‘sequence shot’ means the whole scene done in one, long take – and edited into the finished film that way. Strictly, that would also have to be a master shot – since there are no other shots! – but master shot, in conventional filmmaking terminology, refers to a shot in which all (or most) of a scene is covered in one long take, but is (normally) intended to then be cut with shots taken from other angles.

  • Ben

    Adrian, thanks for differentiating the two terms. I usually just call it a master shot but I guess there is a difference, at least in their intended usage. Mizoguchi is indeed a master of the long take and what makes him unique is that the camera is not always there to follow the action in emphatic way but can pull back or weave in – sometimes even deliberately obscuring the action! – and arrive at the most perfectly balanced composition as if the action and camera are working independently and then end up modulating with each other. Form and content ultimately are one the same. Masterful stuff!